Local News

Perdue announces $26.5M in proposed probation reforms

Posted March 13, 2009 6:11 a.m. EDT
Updated March 13, 2009 11:57 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Bev Perdue on Friday said she wants to spend more $26.5 million over the next two fiscal year on changes to toughen the state's probation system and improve public and law enforcement access to information about offenders.

“These reforms will hold offenders more accountable, ease officer caseloads and will reduce crime on the streets,” Perdue said. “It will give probation and law enforcement officers more tools to do their jobs effectively.”

Perdue's plan, based in part on recommendations by the National Institute of Corrections, also calls for approximately $13 million in 2009-2010 and approximately $13 million the following year.

Among the proposed changes is approximately $14million for 117 additional probation and parole officers; $4.8 million to increase the pay grade for 1,048 officers to help raise recruitment and retention; and $620,000 for training. (View a complete list of Perdue's proposed changes.)

In addition, Perdue wants to open juvenile records to supervising probation officers and make probation information available to law enforcement. She also wants to require all offenders on probation to submit to warrantless searches.

Perdue downplays complaints from those who worry the searches might violate individual rights.

"I'm not trying to be especially heinous or harsh, but my priority as the new governor of North Carolina has to be the safety of the general public," she said.

In conjunction with her announcement, the state, also on Friday, launched a new Web site providing listings of the nearly 14,000 people on probation whose whereabouts are unknown.

"This Web site will enable the citizenry of the state of North Carolina to act as a posse to help us find these people who are supposed to be under supervision," said state House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake.

Republicans applauded Perdue Friday for backing some of their proposals, such as the Web site, and say change is needed. They don't want new taxes to pay for it, though.

"This is cheaper than the alternative, which is to put them in prison and pay a lot more," Stam said.

Problems with the state's probation system came to light last year in the wake of the shooting deaths of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior Eve Carson.

Demario James Atwater, 22, and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr, 18 – both suspects in Carson's death – were on probation at the time of the crimes. Lovette is also charged in Mahato's death.

Records show that probation officers tried to make contact with Atwater once in more than two years. Lovette's two arrests while on probation also went undetected.

Reviews of the system – both internally and by the National Institute of Corrections – found that inadequate staffing, high turnover rates, case reassignments and lack of training led to deficiencies in the suspects' supervision.

Probation officers also had no central system for communicating with other law enforcement and judicial agencies, and no system notified them when their clients violated probation.

An alert system now notifies probation officers if someone assigned to them is arrested, and $2.5 million from the General Assembly will hire 29 new probation officers, including nine in Wake County.

Some officers will be trained to handle a variety of cases – a capability that earn them a higher starting salary.